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Event - 1981-10-22
Thursday, 1981, October 22
Aga Khan IV (H.H. Prince Karim)

Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen

The seminar on the changing rural habitat organised by the Aga Khan Award for Architecture is coming to an end, and I would like before anything else to thank the President and the members of the Architectural Society of China for their courtesy, their hospitality, their generosity and the warmth of their welcome. It has been for all of us a unique experience and I know that in the days ahead this experience will be continued and be enlarged, and we owe a great debt of gratitude to the Architectural Society of China.

I would also like to take this occasion to thank all the men and women who participated in organising this seminar. I know that it has taken hard work, time, thought, commitment and I can imagine the difficulties of assembling this number of people, not only in Peking but all the way up to Kashgar where this has never been done before, and again I would like to express my very warm gratitude to everyone who has made this possible.

The case papers that were presented were of a remarkably high standard, and I would like to thank all those who have taken time and given thought to presenting these papers because it was their work which has made this debate so fruitful; and I hope that in the future seminars this is a procedure that we will be able to continue because I think it is extremely informative and constructive.

The debate has been interesting and I believe that all of us have learned from it, and in concluding the seminar I thought I might try to highlight some of the important themes that have come out of the last three days of discussion. I think for all of us this has been a first occasion to discuss in an interdisciplinary manner, with a multiplicity of inputs, the problems of the changing rural habitat. It is an international conference which has drawn from the experience of a number of countries, and I hope that this process of international debate, of exchange of thought and of learning, will be repeated and be continued in various forums. I think we have learned about a lot of questions but I don't think we have found many answers. I suspect that what this seminar has done is to have highlighted seven or eight fundamental issues which all of us would agree are of prime importance for the future of the rural habitat. Perhaps the first issue is the absence of communication between those who live in the rural areas and those who work for its betterment. What I mean by communications is the ability of the rural population to express itself in a clear manner to the people who are planning the development of the rural areas, to participate fully in the processes which contribute to the development programme of the rural areas, and then having a chance to evaluate the response that these developments produce. I think this may well be due to the nature of rural society. It is more widely spread; it is less vocal in many cases, and it is more difficult for urban technocrats to penetrate the thought processes, the responses of rural society than if you are building for programmes in an urban development. I think it is also true that international planners and architects communicate more easily amongst themselves than they do with the urban population as a whole. So maybe the first challenge, if I can call it that, which deserves further thought and reflection is how to establish better communications between the rural societies that are of concern to us, and those who are involved in planning the development of the future of these societies.

I think that the second theme which is important is the theme of modernity versus traditionalism. Our Chinese delegates, and delegates from other parts of the world, have all emphasised the diversity of the rural populations for which we are working, the different reactions of these to modernity, and many of us have questions as to the speed with which, and the totality in which, the rural habitat can or should be transformed.

A third theme, I think, is the one of making the rural habitat a desirable place in which to live. Here I return to the question of what the rural populations consider desirable and I have a feeling that their definition of desirability may be somewhat different from the definition of desirability within an urban context. I would think this is an area in which greater exchange of information could be extremely helpful.

A fourth theme of concern must be the one of cost. Of the projects that we saw, I think very few actually were completed within an outcome cost which was the one which was originally forecast, and one may 'fluff' the figures but I don't think that anyone really would shy away from the reality of the fact that it is exceptionally difficult to build low-cost housing in rural areas in an efficient manner.

A fifth theme which is of concern to all of us here, is the diversity of the populations for which one is building. I am thinking of the desirability of enabling those populations to express, through the modernisation of rural society, their own customs, their own traditions, their own habits, their own necessities. I was struck by the examples of Sanaa, the example of Nubia, the example of Chitral that we saw at the last seminar where people tend to give their habitat old or new, in the countryside those traditional elements of design of personal touches which is theirs. It is important that that opportunity should be left to the rural societies and not simply pushed away by the process of modernisation.

Two other themes are highly relevant, one of which came out very clearly during this seminar, and this was the interface between technology, expertise and ideology. These are three elements which are key elements in the modernisation or improvement of the rural habitat, but I think it is quite clear that they are interfaced, and it would be risky to deal with one without appropriate consideration of the other. And the last theme is the architect. This is the sixth seminar that we have held, and at every seminar the architect's role has been modified, changed, perhaps even tortured. It is a little bit like putty that goes around a children's school and every child who gets hold of this putty makes a different animal out of this putty. But I think in no seminar has the role of the architect been expanded as it has been in this seminar. I think it is interesting to note that probably in dealing with the rural habitat, the architects themselves will have to take cognizance, will have to accept the fact that the criteria for designing and planning for the rural habitat are totally different from the traditional criteria of designing for urban buildings.

These than are some of the themes which I felt were predominant in this seminar. If I may say so, I think they remain challenges for most of us; and rather than having to find solutions, if these challenges are at least better perceived, better understood, then one could hope that this seminar will have contributed to the establishment of wider bases, for the future transformations of the rural habitat.

I would like to close this seminar by repeating the Award's and my very sincere gratitude to the Architectural Society of China, and to express to them my personal hope that this will not be the last time that they will be associated with such seminars, and that they will accept to send representatives to future seminars when we will be discussing, of course, other subjects, but in which we will look forward to their participation and to learning from them continuously. I wish you good health, happiness and thank you for three interesting days.

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